Johnson's Preface To Shakespeare Essay

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Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare
Samuel Johnson’s Preface to 'The Plays of William Shakespeare’ is a classical document of literary criticism. It is proof enough of the qualities of lucidity, energy and individuality on the part of Johnson, who has presented before us an impartial and objective judgment of Shakespeare. He has excelled his guru, Dryden in superbly defending the tragic-comedy.
In the Preface, Johnson has enumerated the faults of Shakespeare about which Raleigh writes, “The detailed analysis of the faults is a fine piece of criticism and has never been seriously challenged.”
The first thing that needs to be observed is why the obscurities have crept into the writings of Shakespeare. The reasons are – careless manner of publication; use of colloquial English; use of many allusions, references etc. to topical events and personalities; rapid flow of ideas that often hurries him to move to the second thought before the first one is fully elaborated. Johnson in writing this Preface has performed the service to Shakespeare in making obscurities and confusing clearly understandable.
The faults of Shakespeare as elaborated by Johnson are:
• There is a lack of propriety as the jests are gross and the pleasantries licentious.

• Shakespeare sacrifices virtue to convenience. He makes no just distribution of good and evil.

• The tragic-comedies (neither comedies nor tragedies) are not in accordance with the rules. Moreover, some plots are loosely constructed and have improbable endings.

• Then there is lack of poetic justice especially in tragedies. The major figures suffer more that they deserve – the punishment inflicted on them is disproportionate to their sins.

• There are instances of Shakespeare’s violation of chronology (called anachronisms).

• As regards the faults in tragedies, Johnson was of the opinion that the display of passion which urgency forces out are for the most part striking and energetic but when he tries his own...

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